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First One's Free: Convince Fans to Buy Music You Give Away

July 1, 2014
ReverbNation and SoundCloud let you stream songs, and let fans share them with friends.

Convince fans to buy music that you give away

FOR MOST musicians today, the enemy is obscurity, not piracy. So, making your music downloadable and releasing it for free is one of the best ways to increase the likelihood of someone discovering and liking your music.

But letting fans download your music causes a dilemma: If one of the best ways to get noticed and build a fanbase is to share your music, why would anyone buy your music?

Fortunately, there are ways to convince fans to buy your music even if you give it away. Here are five easy methods you can use:

STREAMING SERVICES Rather than make your music downloadable, you can use a streaming service—an option that allows people to hear the song without being able to directly download it. While determined fans can still figure out ways to rip the song from a streaming service, most won’t. Sites like ReverbNation ( or SoundCloud ( allow you to stream songs, and even let people share them with their friends. But the best part is that these services let you put a “buy” button linking to services like iTunes or Amazon so that fans can make an impulse purchase after they hear it.

  YouTube YouTube is the world’s most popular music search engine. So, if your best songs are not already on YouTube, you’re missing out. YouTube is the easiest way to turn a song viral, and can make you income through advertising. You can also put a “buy” link right inside the video description or inside the video itself to encourage song sales. See our previous article “Five Ways to Make Money on YouTube” (October 2013) for the best methods to promote and monetize your songs with YouTube.

Provide Song Samples Rather than give away the entire song, you can always follow iTunes’ method of introducing people to the music by offering a song sample for listeners to download. The upside to providing song samples is that they don’t directly cannibalize the sales of the tracks. The downside is they are not as viral, and fans are less likely to keep them in their collections since it’s just a snippet of a song.

Add an Audio Bumper Rather than give away the same song that you put up for sale, add an audio tag at the beginning or end of the song so fans know that it’s a free version that they downloaded. Just like a radio announcer, you can speak over the intro of the song, announce the title and your band name, or conclude with a statement of where they can purchase the track. The main thing is that the audio on the free track doesn’t have to be the same as the track that’s for sale.

Release Alternate Versions Even if you give away your best songs, you don’t have to give away the same version of the song that you have for sale. While you’re in the studio, think about making multiple versions of your best tracks: Acoustic versions, live versions, and remixes are all excellent giveaways that can introduce people to your music without impacting the sales of the original versions.

Keep in mind that many of the techniques above require you to think about marketing and selling your music in the recording studio—before you’ve even released it. Take your best tracks and make your alternate versions, remixes, sample tracks, and tracks with promotional audio-bumpers before you even master the music, so that you’re not giving away the thing you want to sell.

None of this matters if you don’t make a “buy” link easily available for fans to click and purchase your music. Get your music on services like iTunes and Amazon before giving your music to fans, so you can capture those impulse sales. Make sure that the links are clearly marked, and easy to use. If you give fans a taste of the music, and then make it as simple as possible to support you, your music will help sell itself.

Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan are authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide (St. Martin’s Griffin), now in its second edition.

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